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Firefighters returning to work in Minneapolis
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Recalled Minneapolis firefighters are undergoing some refresher training at the department's training tower in Northeast Minneapolis. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Nearly all of the Minneapolis firefighters who were laid off this spring will return to duty this week. The fire department was able to rehire 31 of the 32 active firefighters who lost their jobs because of city budget cuts. Department officials say they were able to rehire them after finding ways to save money and bring in additional revenue.

Minneapolis, Minn. — When Fire Chief Rocco Forte proposed laying off firefighters as a way to meet a shrinking budget last spring, he was simultaneously criticized by union leaders and praised by city officials. Soon after the layoffs, Forte and his staff released a business plan that contained cost-cutting measures and ways to bring in new revenue. The idea was to be able to rehire the laid-off firefighters and protect them against layoffs in the next round of budget cuts expected next year.

"We're looking at taking on some regulatory services; housing inspection duties, so our firefighters will be doing some of the housing inspections as well as fire code inspections," according to Forte.

The department also expects to bring in additional revenue by charging fees for some of the services firefighters now provide free of charge. Last month the City Council approved a proposal by the chief to charge $400 for medical aid to car crash victims. Fire officials say that could bring in as much as $150,000 annually, about as much as three firefighter salaries.

However, Forte's plan was met with some skepticism by some firefighters, many of whom had applied for positions at other fire departments. Forte says he wouldn't have blamed any one of them for going to another city.

"St. Paul is hiring and they did open it up to our laid-off firefighters and I think that was nice of them. Quite frankly, if I was a laid-off firefighter, I would have taken the test there too. But we were able to bring them all back at the end of the day," he said.

Actually, not all have come back. Union officials say one firefighter resigned. And the department still hasn't been able to hire back the 10 cadets who were preparing to become firefighters.

Firefighters Union Local 82 President Tom Thornberg says the department is making progress but still has a way to go.

"We're extremely happy that the laid-off firefighters are going to be coming back. But we look forward to getting the staff levels up to where it's safe again for the firefighters and for the public," he said.

Thornberg says it will take an additional 50 to 60 firefighters to reach proper staffing levels. Even with the rehiring of the 31 firefighters, the department is still below national staffing standards.

Firefighter David Adkins inspects the equipment he hasn't seen since he was laid off in April. Adkins and his colleagues are undergoing some refresher training at the department's training tower in Northeast Minneapolis. In a few days he will be ready to go back on the job.

Some of the laid-off firefighters took part-time jobs. Adkins got married this summer and says he took the time to reconnect with his family.

"It was a long summer. But it was also relaxing. Just gave me an opportunity to do other things and I spent more time with my family. And spend a lot more time with my nieces and nephews. But other than that, I'm just glad to be back," said Adkins.

Fire department officials say not all firefighters will return to their former stations and they will not necessarily work their former shifts.

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